Figures, 2023, installation view
STEVENSON is pleased to present Figures, a solo exhibition of new works by Neo Matloga.
In this series of intimately scaled paintings, created in his Amsterdam studio, Matloga delves deeper into his connection with the fictional figures he portrays. The artist describes this current dominance of painterly gestures over collage elements as the yielding to ‘a steadily intensifying urge’. He writes:
I have developed a growing curiosity towards the characters I have assembled in my collages over the years. In my pursuit of comprehending their essence, I have found that at this moment painting is the most effective means for me. Recently, my focus has been on exploring the formal elements of my practice, causing me to move away from creating socially confirmed situations and instead tap deeper into the act of painting and its significance. I have drawn inspiration from both formal instruction – including techniques such as alla prima, chiaroscuro, perspective and trompe l'oeil – and informal learning, such as memories of watching my mother paint the floor and walls in the household, especially how she intuitively moved her hands.
Departing from his previous mode, where theatrical compositions heightened by dramatic tension were at the fore, Matloga now positions himself as if he were painting live sitters. He actively speculates on the possible interplay of gazes and the physical demands of stillness:
Although I rely on reference materials, I let my imagination guide me during the painting process, sometimes not even recognising the subject on the canvas. The mystery of who I am painting adds to the surprise, leaving me to wonder whether they are individuals I may have encountered in a past life.
Collage, charcoal and ink are my chosen mediums, but at this point I've also turned to water to give me a chance to think differently about surface and additional time to make my gestures. It’s ink’s nature to dry quickly, it almost leaves me no choice but to act decisively. This new addition acts as a ‘time expander’ and adds to the tonality of the composition. The prevailing mood in the studio was of productive estrangement – everything that made sense suddenly had become unusual and was coupled with the unknown.
As I worked, I began communicating with myself, searching for a connection with the figure and coming to the realisation that no matter who is depicted on the canvas, we are all connected in some way. I imagined the process of painting a live model, envisioning their gradual discomfort as they remained in the same position for extended periods of time. As I painted to capture the nuances of their physical and emotional discomfort, my aim was to evoke a sense of raw unease in the viewer – the kind of discomfort that these subjects were experiencing in real time.
The contemplative portraits in Figures lend prescience to Azu Nwagbogu’s commentary on Matloga’s work, penned at the time of Matloga’s solo exhibition along came your eyes at the Hermitage Amsterdam in 2022:
As the artist in Matloga matures, so do his subjects and their embodiment as characters. He takes them out into the contested territory of public space – a perilous journey for Black bodies. But these richly complex characters are free, and they own their space.
The exhibition opens Saturday 16 September, 11am to 1pm. Matloga will give a walkabout on the day of the opening at 12pm.